Why I left a Successful Consulting Career

About six months ago I made the decision to leave a successful management consulting career to follow my startup dreams. Many others aspire to do the same but often fail to execute. These people are often the ones that say TGIF (Thank God it’s Friday) but really want to be saying TGIM (Thank God it’s Monday).

My desire to leave the corporate world was triggered a year ago by a conversation I had with a colleague in the office kitchen. I asked how their day was going and the response shocked me but it shouldn’t have. It went something like “just counting down the days till the weekend”.

It was Tuesday.

Only one fifth of the work week had gone by.

‍It was at this moment that I realised I needed to follow my passion and work with others who shared this passion. This situation triggered the thought process but what made me take the plunge and quit?

Before we get to the why, let’s have a look at the why not. Why did it take me so long to make the move? Below are some of the doubts that went through my mind:

“What will my friends and family think?”

“How will I be able to afford my lifestyle?”

“What if it doesn’t work out?”

“How can I give up a career I have invested so much time into?”

And so on and so on….

I was comfortable. I was content, I was scared to change.

Gary Bolles, co-founder of eParachute Inc., a San Francisco Bay Area-based startup focused on helping career changers, highlights the perceived obligations that act as career change roadblocks in his blogPermission to Change:

“As we mature into adulthood, we take on a variety of obligations. We often get married, and have kids. We buy things like cars and houses. We have ups and downs, financially. And we have ups and downs, health-wise.”

These perceived obligations often keep us from making changes in our lives. Obligations will exist at each stage of life and if you are waiting for that point where they no longer exist, then you will be waiting forever.

I had to ask myself some hard hitting questions to get me out of the funk I was in. My inspiration at the time came from one of my favourite books, The 4-Hour Workweek. In this book Tim Ferriss highlights the importance of asking yourself logical questions that essentially act as the antidote to the fear being experienced. Using a selection of Tim’s insights as inspiration, I asked myself a set of five questions. These questions aren’t specific to career change, they can be applied to almost any of life’s crossroads.

1. What is the worst possible outcome if you take action?

Embrace the fear — think of the absolute worst case scenario. Most of the time the worst case scenario is not as bad as you think. For me, it was to enter the corporate world again if things didn’t work out. Oh, and I would return with a truckload of learnings and experience that would help me stand out from my peers.

2. What is stopping you?

The perceived obligations pop up when considering this question. Are these obligations really holding you back? Human instinct encourages us to bring up reasons (borderline excuses), given we prefer to explore the path that is easiest and more comfortable. Rationalising is something us humans do well but often holds us back and prevents us from taking accountability for decisions and actions in life. The choice is always yours to adjust a part of your life to cater for any obligation.

3. If you take action, what are the impacts?

The two key impact areas to consider are financial and emotional. Financially you may take a hit but there is nothing stopping you from making some changes to your life to make it work. If you do something you love and are passionate about the money will eventually come. Emotionally it will feel like you have broken through handcuffs, trust me. A Gallup survey of over 450,000 Americans echoed this point, finding that as people earn more money, their day-to-day happiness rises. Until you hit $75,000. After that, it is just more stuff, with no gain in happiness. How much do you really need?

4. Are you seeking permission?

As Gary Bolles pointed out in his appearance on the Future Squared podcast, a key step in the process is to gain permission from an integral person in your life. This may be your partner, a family member or even a close friend. Decide who you need to get permission from, then seek it.

5. Would you regret not taking action?

If your working career ended today, would you be thrilled with the path that you took? Would you regret not taking the opportunity or path that you dreamed of? Don’t live life with regrets, especially when you have control.

It has been six months since I asked myself these questions and the change I have made has been one of the best decisions in my career (and life). Having said that, I would not take back my eight years working for consulting firms across some of the world’s leading organisations. I worked with and for some amazing people and learned skills that I carry forward to this very day.

I will leave you with this inspiring quote from George Costanza:

“I used to sit here and do nothing, and regret it for the rest of the day, so now I will do the opposite, and I will do something!”

Shay is the GM of Customer Strategy at Collective Campus. Shay has launched several startups and helped drive customer experience and innovation across large organisations in industries including retail, utilities, financial services and legal services.

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